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Is it worth retraining as a solicitor?

(16 Posts)
lulupop Mon 01-Nov-04 12:28:15

Calling all you solicitors out there... I am currently a SAHM with a 3 yr old and 6 month old. Obviously it's going to be quite a while before I get back to work, but once they are both in school I do see myself back working again.

I had my first child quite young (25) but before that was a City headhunter with a quite prestigious firm. I didn't really enjoy the work (one of the reasons I had children so early!) and I definitely wouldn't go back to a job which cld only be done in London (we live in Kent).

I'd always thought I wld be a solicitor, but to be honest, when I left university after a 4 yr course, I couldn't bring myself to settle down to another 2 yrs studying, never mind ask my parents to pay for it!

I have been wondering whether it would be worth my while retraining though, for when I go back to work. The only thing stopping me is, would anyone actually employ me? They way I see it, I'd be only in my early 30s by then, and have already completed my family so won't be going off on maternity leave, and will have a good 25-30 yrs working life ahead of me. But on the other hand, an employer might just think I've got minimal work experience at anything, and not be interested. Obviously law school is a bit investment of time and money, so I'd want to be sure I would get a job at the end of it.

If any of you are in the law, I'd be really grateful for any opinions on this.

redshoes Mon 01-Nov-04 19:35:53

Hi
I retrained as a solicitor and qualified when I was 30. I had no problems getting a training contract at that age, but I studied (CPE) part-time and worked as a paralegal at a local firm throughout. This was a huge advantage as solicitors are busy people generally and if they can see you turn up and do the job, plus they see you around in court etc you are a more attractive bet than an unknown 20-something. Also, you have stuff to talk about at interviews! Maturity is an advantage imo in the law as you have more credibility than a 'youngster' both in court and with clients. Actually, I know lots of lawyers who were mature students and they have succeeded.
Are you sure you want to do it tho?! If you are interested in legal aid work, the pay is not great...in fact, I think the best advice I could give is to 'shadow' as many solicitors who practice in the areas of law you are interested in pursuing, as the job and the pay vary so much depending on your specialism. HTH - good luck!

coppertop Mon 01-Nov-04 19:51:34

Which kind of firm would you be interested in working for? The bigger ones tend to take applications as much as 2 years before you would actually begin the training contract. This could be an advantage if you get one as you would be able to start the CPE knowing that you did at least have a job at the end of it. I think being older may be more of an advantage than you might think. You would almost certainly have better 'people skills' and negotiating practice than someone who has gone straight from school to university and then into a job.

If you're looking at smaller firms then the downside is that they may not know whether they can afford to take on a trainee until literally just before you start working for them. Many of the smaller firms can't afford to pay much during a TC and some may even prefer you to work for free. If you can get in as much experience as possible you may be able to make some useful contacts.

I went through the CPE/LPC and ended up with no TC at all. It can be a bit of a gamble so I suppose you just need to try to work out whether you have the financial means to take the strain if it doesn't all go according to plan.

Good luck.

lulupop Mon 01-Nov-04 21:14:43

Thanks for your replies, this is really interesting for me. As to the type of work I'd hope to do, I suppose being honest it's as much a case of what I COULD do locally. If I was training as a solicitor out of university, I would have gone for one of the big london firms like lots of my friends, and got a range of experience before settling in one area. Where I live now there are two or three big solicitors firms, but that's no guarantee of a job. I'd imagine probably family law, probate, tax, something like that.

Redshoes you say you worked as a paralegal. I'd thought of this as myabe a way to get a more realistic idea of things, but what actually does a paralegal do? And do you require any special training for that?

Coppertop how did things work out for you careerwise in the end?

coppertop Mon 01-Nov-04 22:03:17

In the end there was just too much competition for the few available TC's. I made it to the final 3 at one firm and even they were only offering £6k for the first 2 years (including working most evenings and Saturday mornings!). Some people were even offering to work completely free of charge and I'm afraid I just couldn't have managed that financially even though it would have meant that I would have been qualified at the end of it. I did some part-time paralegal work with a firm in the North-East but there were no regular hours and the firm had no plans to take on any more trainees. At the same time dh was finding it impossible to get work in his chosen field so we basically cut our losses and moved further south. There are even less opportunities in law for me here and after having ds1 I became a SAHM.

I really enjoyed the courses and the work experience so in that sense I don't regret going ahead with it - although I'm still paying off my loan.

It may help to speak to some of the local firms to see what their position is at the moment, eg are they planning on taking on any trainees in the forseeable future and if so how far in advance would they like you to apply. Another popular method is to work part-time as a paralegal and do the CPE part-time. Some employers may even pay towards your course fees.

MummyToSteven Mon 01-Nov-04 23:12:40

Hi - I am a solicitor - not planning to return to old job after maternity leave tho as really didn't enjoy it.

what I would tell any friend contemplating training as a solicitor is that you have to be very very sure that is what you want to do, as there is too much of a risk of spending money on CPE/LPC and not getting a training contract at the end of the day. There are so many other jobs (even some professional, such as accountancy) where you don't need to take the risk, but do the qualifications on the job, so why law?. Paralegal experience would be an excellent way of getting some paid work experience and testing the waters. The level of education/relevant experience required to be a paralegal will vary from firm to firm. some places have paras that are school leavers, others have paras that are LPC graduates.

The type of hours as a solicitor don't tend to be very family friendly - again this will vary from firm to firm though - big london commercial firms will expect a lot of evening work, if not weekend work.

Age wise, I agree with other posters that a bit of life experience is an advantage; i would say amongst trainees solicitors, most have not gone straight through from uni to LPC to law firm, but have spent time doing other things. working as a city headhunter would show that you are used to a commercial environment and have good people/phone skills.

lulupop Tue 02-Nov-04 07:35:27

Yes MTS, that's what I'm worried about - making a considerable financial committment without being 100% sure.

I'm not sure I made myself clear re the work environment I'd go for. Wat I meant was, I would now want to work for a local firm where hopefully I wouldn't have to end up doing corporate law, as obviously any job I get is going to have to fit in with my family life as well.

DH is 12 yrs older than me and at some point I think it very likely he'll lose his job and just not be able to get another one, which is why I'm trying to think long term about something I could do that might actually end up paying the bills for us.

I'm encouraged by what you say about the life experience thing. My best friend is currently a trainee solicitor, having walked away from a v gd job with a multi-national firm which took her on as a graduate. My concern re myself is that rather than having 10 yrs post-uni work experience in another field, "all" I have done (apart from my 2 yrs in the City) is care for 2 children.

I do have a Cambridge degree though and would hope this might at least show I am prepared to work hard. Or is that a bit naive?

Is a paralegal a bit like a specialised type of secretary/PA then? Or would I have to do any exams?

And why didn't you like being a solicitor, BTW? If you don't mind me asking.

jampot Tue 02-Nov-04 07:44:21

Lulu - at teh firm I work for, we have 3 trainees who all had to do 1 year's paralegalling (sp?) before being taken on as trainees. I understand that this seems to be the norm as I believe it shows commitment on the part of the trainee and also shows to the employer the quality of your work before committing to a training contract. I think after a period of 1 year though your training contract can be reduced to 18 months (3 more seats). Paralegals are notoriously underpaid, they each started on 8k and 10k (8k one was previously a sister in a busy hospital) so to go down to the bottom of the ladder as it were and earn sod all money was pretty hard for her. The other 2 came straight from completing their LPCs at Uni so brought with them no life experience (due to age). As trainees they are now on £15k. Newly qualified rates at somewhere like Wragges I understand is about £26k so probably a bit less for your high street firm. Also I understand that when on the LPC course, certainly our trainees are advised that there are far more students wanting TC's than there are TC's and it is much harder for the asian trainees apparently - not entirely sure why but 2 of ours are Asian.

redshoes Tue 02-Nov-04 19:47:20

As a paralegal I used to turn up at court (bringing relevant paperwork), find the client and introduce them to the barrister then take notes and generally do any ringing/chasing that needed doing - before and during the hearing. I also did conferences with clients. This was 6-odd years ago and I think the Legal Aid regs may have changed now...but I gained loads of great experience, especially when a 9-month Old Bailey trial came up. Could you phone around/pop in to some local firms? I worked on a casual basis, paid hourly, but the money wasn't the point. You could offer to do filing etc which would give you the chance to look through files and see how cases go...and to get a foot in the door. With experience, you can then sell yourself as a fee-earner even while a trainee, unlike someone with no experience who is basically a drain on the firm, at first at least. You also might spend a week at a firm and decide you really don't want to be a solicitor!

Kaz33 Tue 02-Nov-04 20:38:35

Another city lawyer here who really did not enjoy her job and is now glad to be at home with kids. Why did I hate it ? Not so much the work really as the attitude of the people that I worked with, I think it is definitely an advantage to be an anal pedantic s*** to be a commerical lawyer. Cannot speak of other areas of law - I have a friend who is a family lawyer who loves it, goes to court, loads of client contact and really feels she is really helping people. Another friends who does pensions law, very specialised who again loves it... But most of my friends working for commercial law firms see it as a means to earn money and get little job satisfaction out of it.

If you are looking for a job in the provinces then there are increasingly big regional players with good quality work and paying good salaries. However they will be the same I would imagine as the city law firms - populated by old, male,white, public school partners with the same ethos.

Other than that you have small firms doing conveyancing, legal aid work, criminal work, wills and probate and low level commercial. Pay not good as a rule.

Personally before embarking on retraining I think you should ask yourself:

Why ? Do I want money ? Job satisfaction ? Do I find the law instrincially interesting ? Most lawyers I know who like it - actually find the law interesting, me I found it as dull as dishwater. Do you like achieving things, doing deals, admin or do you like poking around in dusty law books getting to the root of a problem. The law does have a home for both of them, but it is good to set your parameters before you embark on an expensive journey.

Maybe this is the time to spend some money on some quality careers counselling ?

Me bitter, no not at all

Saying that I do have a few friends who do enjoy it still.

Sallie Tue 09-Nov-04 16:19:45

Echo what Kaz33 says - personally I hate my job - city commercial litigation lawyer. I now have two kids and 4 weeks after returning to work after being on maternity leave, I feel frazzled! City law is not at all child-friendly in my experience.

lulupop Wed 10-Nov-04 13:54:05

Thanks for your posts. I definitely can't imagine being a City lawyer with kids - must be a nightmare! But what about working for a provincial firm? Do you think this would offer more of a work/life balance?

fleurie Wed 10-Nov-04 14:08:53

had you considered the voluntary sector better terms and conditions? or legal aid?, am a trainee in this sector and it is v child friendly but the downside is that the training you get can be abysmal jor non existent, have heard that some high street practices can be brutal in what they expect of and pay trainees - i hope to eventually teach - would have loved to have gone to the bar but how practical is that in mid thirties with a burgeoning brood!

lulupop Thu 13-Jan-05 19:03:59

just thought I'd revive this thread as my circumstances look set to change somewhat and I need to knuckle down to my "future career" as soon as reasonably possible.

I think DH and I are going to be parting company some time soon (have a whole diff thread going on that one in Relationships). I will have to get a job, but more to the point, I do not want to fritter yrs away doing some OK but no-progression admin job. I have been thinking that I might be able to get him to agree to support me through 2 yrs law school with a view to a clean break settlement as soon as I can earn enough to support me and the kids.

What I want to know is, does anyone know anyone who's done law school with young children as well? I know it would be very very hard work, but I want to know if it's a complete pipe dream, or something I could actually achieve. I can't bear the idea that I'll lose my chance to get a proper "career" by just doing admin/office work to pay the bills. Obviously the children are no.1 for me, but I also have 30 yrs of working life ahead and I want to make sure I make the best of it.

Any thoughts?

Piffle Thu 13-Jan-05 19:34:11

my friend who is now 40 trained as a solicitor about 6 yrs ago, she did it part time via Lincoln Uni and Sheffield and work experience from what I can recall, she has an excellent job now and is really happy.
However it did destroy her marriage
I'm also thinking of a similar thing but perhaps journalism or child psychology/development

lulupop Fri 14-Jan-05 12:30:40

hi piffle, do you mean your friend started training about 6 yrs ago, or finished training 6 yrs ago?

given my marriage seems to be over anyway, I have nothing to lose but all my free time (what's that, anyway??) and money!

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